Intelligence: Mission Nearly Impossible

Archives

May 21, 2012:  In the last decade there has been a tremendous increase in the use of biometric (fingerprints, iris, facial recognition) identification. This is causing problems for espionage agencies because of the use of biometric information for identification documents, like passports and those used to access heavily guarded facilities. The use of biometrics does its job very well keeping out spies, terrorists, and saboteurs. The downside is that it also limits the activities of your own spies. This has led to efforts by espionage agencies to get around this "problem." The espionage organizations will not comment on what, if any, solutions they have come up with. That is to be expected.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has developed tools that enable combat troops to use biometrics on the battlefield. The main tool created for the troops is called SEEK (Secure Electronic Enrolment Kit). This is a portable electronic toolkit that collects biometrics from people. This includes fingerprint scans, eye (iris) scan, and digital photos of suspects. All this eventually ends up in a master database, which now contains data on millions of terrorists, suspected terrorists, their supporters, and other "persons of interest". Troops in the field can carry part of that database with them in their SEEK unit, so that wanted people can quickly be identified and arrested. This is what the American commandos did on the 2011, Osama bin Laden raid. While DNA tests (which take hours to perform, on not-so-portable equipment) are the best form of ID, if you have fingerprints, iris scans, and a photo you are nearly as certain. Even just fingerprints and the face scan/photo is pretty convincing.

In Afghanistan the government used SEEK kits to collect data on nearly two million Afghans, so these people could be issued very secure (hard to fake) ID cards. For the government, this makes it more difficult for criminals, Taliban and Islamic radicals in general, to infiltrate the government or just operate freely. The U.S. has long been collecting biometrics from those they arrest, or otherwise encounter and want to positively identify. This data makes it easier to figure who is naughty and who is not.

All this began during the war in Iraq. Early on in the war on terror the Department of Defense adopted many practices that major police departments had long employed. One of the more useful techniques is biometrics. That is, every time the troops encounter a "person of interest", they don't just take their name and address, they also use SEEK to collect the biometric data.

The fingerprints are particularly useful because when they are stored electronically you can search and find out immediately if the print you have just lifted from somewhere else, like off the fragment of a car bomb, is in there or not. The digital photos, from several angles, are also useful because these pictures are run through software that creates a numeric "ID" that can be used by security cameras to look for someone specific, or for finding someone from a witness description. Other nations are digitizing their mug shots, and this enables these people to be quickly checked against those in the American database.

For decades the U.S. military has regularly collected huge amounts of information from accidents and combat encounters. So now it's no surprise that forensics teams examine each bombing (car or roadside) and combat scene, to see if they can get fingerprints. Often bomb makers are found this way because raids frequently encounter suspicious characters but no evidence that can lock them up.

It only takes about two minutes per subject to use SEEK to take the biometric data, so any suspicious characters are quickly added to the master database. Now, after several years of this, raiding parties know to grab any guy who seems to panic at the sight of the biometrics equipment coming out. The terrorists know that biometrics is bad news for them and they fear it.

Combat troops now get training on how to use the biometrics gear and everyone now accepts that this stuff is a powerful weapon in the war against terrorists. Adapting this expertise to creating very difficult-to-fake IDs is not a large leap but it's not one that will result in many press releases.

 


Article Archive

Intelligence: Current 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 


X

ad
0
20

Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close